Two painful anniversaries are fast approaching.
Nov. 18 will mark one year since an Amtrak train struck and killed Alexandria Lewis while he was crossing the tracks at McCarver Street and Ruston Way, near Old Town. The 28-year-old was returning to work at the law firm of Johnson, Graffe, Keay, Moniz and Wick after a break spent along the waterfront.
Her death came nearly a year to the day after an Amtrak train killed 31-year-old Cale Tyler at the same location.
Lewis and Tyler each were killed when they failed to see oncoming trains, in large part due to obstructed views and a dangerous two-track crossing that can lead to honest human mistakes turning deadly.
Phil deMaine, an attorney at the Old Town law firm where Lewis worked for eight months before her death, is not looking forward to marking these anniversaries. Neither are his colleagues, nor the friends and family of Tyler and Lewis.
It’s going to be very surreal in a way. I’m sure everything is going to resurface for us, as far as the feelings. And we’re going to have to deal with them.
Phil deMaine, on the upcoming anniversary of Alexandria Lewis’ death
Which made the bit of positive pedestrian-safety news announced recently all the more welcome.
On Tuesday, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission announced that a $50,000 grant has been awarded to the city of Tacoma. The money, according to Tacoma Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver, will help pay for $300,000 in pedestrian improvements at the McCarver Street crossing.
Most significantly, the grant stipulates that the pedestrian enhancements will need to be constructed by April 2018 for the city to keep the money, signaling an end to a saga that’s gone on far too long. The railroad supported the city’s grant application.
Unfortunately, getting to this point has been slowed by spools of bureaucratic red tape and snail’s-pace progress that’s part of working with a massive entity like BNSF.
For deMaine, the delay has led to a fair share of cynicism and a “believe-it-when-I-see-it” mentality.
“The question is when,” he said back in January, wondering aloud how long it would take the city and BNSF to act to increase safety at the crossing. “Because they need to happen now, not a year from now, not even six months from now.”
Nearly 10 months later, here we are — finally with some positive progress to report.
The project will include the most pressing and important parts of the safety upgrades people have demanded since Lewis’ tragic and untimely death: pedestrian gates that will restrict access when trains are approaching.
In all likelihood, such train-activated gates would have prevented the accidents that claimed the lives of Lewis and Tyler.
Kingsolver said some of the upgrades — specifically permanent fencing near the crossing and sidewalk improvements — hopefully will be completed by late November. The litany of work scheduled for the site also includes an LED upgrade to flashing lights at the crossing.
The pedestrian gates remain the most complicated matter, however.
According to a statement emailed to the News Tribune from city’s public works department, the gates “are still yet to be designed fully by BNSF and will have to be procured and installed by them within an indeterminate time line, but no later than the April 2, 2018, date associated with the grant.”
That’s cityspeak for “we’ve still got some stuff to work through” — which, really, should come as no surprise to anyone following this long, arduous ordeal.
Still, the announcement of the grant means a conclusion is finally in sight. Which is exactly what the families of Lewis and Tyler deserve.
Back in Old Town, deMaine said there are plans for a “small office gathering” to honor the life of Lewis on the anniversary of her death.
“It’s going to be very surreal in a way,” he said of the anniversary of Lewis’ passing. “I’m sure everything is going to resurface for us, as far as the feelings. And we’re going to have to deal with them.”
With Lewis and Tyler’s friends and family in mind, the attorney added that, “Symbolically … it would really be important for the city to start the work” by the time the anniversaries roll around.
He has a point
“We’ve been waiting a year,” he said.